Here is an e-mail interview I recently did with Edgar Rothermich, Christopher Franke's producer/recordist/assistant for more than 20 years.
Comments are welcome!
Feel free to link to the interview on other sites of interest.
Many thanks to Mr. Rothermich for his swift and friendly reply.
Please visit his site on www.DingDingMusic.com
How did you get in touch with Chris Franke?
I studied Tonmeister (Sound Engineering) in Berlin at the University of Arts from 1983 to 1989. During those last years I started to work already as a freelance engineer and had a few jobs at Christopher's private recording studio in Berlin. When he left Tangerine Dream in 1987, he took a year off and didn't use his studio. His friends could use it as long as they brought their own engineer with them. I got hired for some of the recording sessions in the studio through some contacts at the university. When Chris came back after a year from his "break" and decided to start his solo career, he asked me if I would like to work for him as an engineer and producer. I gladly accepted and then later took his second offer to move with him to Los Angeles to continue our collaboration.
I had an interesting connection to TD early on. I learned to play the church organ in high school and earned my first money playing the old pipe organ in our church for all the services, weddings and funerals. With that money I bought my first record player and the first album was Bach "Brandenburgische Konzerte". The second album was Tangerine Dream "Rubicon". Later when I studied in Berlin I was working at Teldec as a CD mastering engineer when the whole digital audio thing started. I worked on a lot of transfers from "T-Rex" to "Peter Maffay", "LaToya Jackson" to "Prince" and one day I got a new tape to transfer, it was "Underwater Sunlight" from Tangerine Dream, my favorite album at that time and to this date.
One of the first things you two did together was the London Concert in 1991. How did this happen? was there ever any talk of doing more concerts?
We did actually quite a few projects before that. Chris' first solo album "Pacific Coast Highway" was the first album release. Our very first collaboration on a film was "Driving Me Crazy". This was a comedy from the director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure). In 1990/91 we did two more scores together (Eye of the Storm and McBain) and then the London Concert.
There were always talks about more concerts but somehow at the end they never happened. One big worldwide event was planned for the 2000 millennium and later when we released Celestine Prophecy there was a concert planned in Sedona, Arizona. I was never involved in the business side so I don't know too much about the details.
Why did you call yourself Richard E. Roth from time to time?
This was actually Christopher's idea to choose an "easier" name for the American market. Richard is my middle name and Roth was supposed to be simpler than Rothermich. Or maybe Chris didn't want to have another "Edgar" on his projects listed. Anyway, after a few years I didd't think that it was necessary and I changed it back. Actually in 1990 I recorded my first solo album that was produced by Christopher and he wanted to release it in the US under Richard E. Roth and have my solo career develop parallel to our collaboration. But that didn't happen. I still have the digital master of that record and was thinking to release it on iTunes just for sentimental values. Some of the themes I used on my solo piano album "Why Not Solo Piano" that I release this year.
Tell us about the process of recording the Pacific Coast Highway, Klemania, Celestine Prophecy and Transformation Of Mind albums.
These are four different directions. Pacific Coast Highway was a more softer New Age approach with the use of the current synthesizers and samplers at that time. Some TD fans found it a little bit too "New Age" and not TD enough, however Chris got new fans that liked that softer romantic touch. Klemania on the other hand was more the real thing for TD fans where we used older analog modular synths for the recording to get that electronica sound. Celestine Prophecy again was a completely different approach. First of all the concept to make a soundtrack for a book was pretty unique. I think this was a typical example what makes Chris so unique. He doesn't want to repeat himself. He is always interested in new things, trying new concepts. That might be one of the reason why he is considered one of the pioneers in Electronic Music. If you look closely at his solo projects then you can see those new things (besides some commercial necessities to finance those forward thinking ideas). The idea of Celestine Prophecy was that if someone listens to the album after having read the book, one would recognize or reminded of parts of the story and re-live it. It was the first time that we recorded a lot of ethnic material that pushed the limits of typical electronic music. Transformation of mind was a great project because I had the privilege to record Deepak Chopra. Even back then he was a very famous author and inspirational speaker. Chris approach him with the idea if he would like to read traditional Poems from India that Chris would compose the music for. We recorded many hours of Poetry with Deepak that we edited later to be embedded in their own soundtrack. This time Chris choose to use Orchestral sounds instead of synthesizer.
Raven may be one of the projects where Franke revisited some of his Tangerine Dream-roots, and it is one of my favorite scores of his. Why did he decide this approach?
Usually it is the other way around. The producer or director has an idea what kind of music/sound they envision for their movie and choose the composer that they think can deliver that. At that time Miami VIce was still considered "good synth score" and I guess that was why Chris was hired for the Job. On my Facebook site (www.facebook.com/EdgarRothermich/) there is one picture from a recording session with a guitar player. That was the actual recording session for the main title of Raven
Universal Soldier was a big orchestral score which came as a big surprise for all synth-fans. was there ever any talk of continuing working for Roland Emmerich on his giant 90s films like Star Gate and Independence Day?
Of course there is always talk about possible future collaboration but at the end there are so many factors especially with those big Hollywood movies that nothing is for certain. Actually we worked with Roland Emmerich before that on a smaller movie "Eye of the Storm" with Dennis Hopper and Laura Flynn Boyle in 1990. Roland was the executive producer on that movie.
Babylon 5 turned out to be a great hit for Franke. Tell us about the process of working on this series.
The process was very intense like with most TV Series. However a typical 45min show has about 20-25min of music but B5 had close to 40min. That was a lot of music to produce each week. The Babylon 5 creator were very particular with every little detail. I remember that we worked on the new Main Title for the next season and after a few weeks going through many iterations we finally thought we had it right when we sent them the final mix. But then at 10 o'clock at night I got a phone call to come back to the studio to remix the cue again because the producers wanted one timpani phrase mixed a tiny bit lower. I think overall the success of the show and the positive response by the fans about the score speaks for itself. It was definitely an important phase in Christopher's career to create his sound that combines big orchestra with electronica elements in a way that they become a unique sound.
On Tenchi Muyo In Love Franke again worked with an orchestra. How would you say this score turned out, including the CD release?
The biggest surprise was how the theme song turned out. It was great to work with Nina Hagen who sang the title song. I was a big fan of her back in Berlin and then we found out that she also lived in the Hollywood Hills close to our studio. I think the score captures the story and and the whole anime genre very well.
Tell us about working on the Pacific Blue series for no less than 5 years.
This series was also very time consuming, especially when it overlapped with B5. Of course they couldn't be more different with story and sound, but that made it more interesting. More pop and surf music. But we were in LA and the inspiration was just in front of our door, so to speak
Is it correct that there are two different soundtrack releases from The Calling, one with the songs and one with the score?
Yes but that is standard movie "business". Sometimes the producers want some song from famous Artist A form a Record Company. That Record Company agrees to let them use the song in the movie for a "reasonable" fee if they agree to use three other songs from their new artists B, C and D in other scenes of the movie (background music in a bar or something) to promote their new artists. They also agree to release a "soundtrack" album as part of a cross-promotion with artist A, B, C and D. On top of that they include on the soundtrack artist E, F and G which had nothing to do with the movie, that's why they call these songs "inspired by". It is a well known fact that often the companies don't release the actual score of a movie. It is a very complicated topic with complicated contracts where even if the composer wanted, he cannot release the score. Luckily "The Calling" is available as a score soundtrack and I think it turned out to be really good.
Did you meet legendary director John Badham during the Footsteps scoring?
Yes he was very involved during the scoring of the movie. First of all, he is a very nice guy and it was a pleasure to work with him. Usually the director and producer gets invited once or twice during the scoring process for a so called "screening" session. This is where the composer presents his music and the director comments on it, giving some notes, etc. John Badham worked differently. Every time a cue was finished he wanted it to be sent to him right away. He had his own video editing system at home and put the score together with the picture. So bit by bit his movie "filled up" with the score that we sent him and he could live with it for a while. So when he and the producers came to the screening sessions, he actually knew the music already and knew exactly what worked for him and what not, eliminating long discussions with the rest of the production team.
How did you two approach What The Bleep Do We Know musically? Are you pleased with the soundtrack album which also features dialogue and tracks by instrumental/new age artists like Patrick O'Hearn, Michael Whalen and Jonn Serrie?
This was another one of those special projects. First of all, the producers didn't actually know what it was, a film, a documentary, a movement? It was a very long production period and although the general music direction of New Age electronica and some Orchestral was clear, there was a lot of fine tuning going on. At the end it turned out to be some kind of a phenomena beyond a regular movie release and the soundtrack album fits into that. I thought this was a very special project for a small niche market but I'm surprised how often in a conversation I get the response "You worked on What the Bleep?" when I tell someone about my resume.
During the last years, Franke has scored a lot of things in the reality TV world. was this a choice made by him or did the film scoring climate force him to do this? How exactly do you work on music for a reality show?
This was definitely a big shift in the TV landscape. Because of the low budget and quick turnaround of most of those productions there is no hired composer for the show. The production uses licensed Library Music Catalogs. The editors have stacks of CDs that they can use for underscore. There are CDs with just action cues, other CDs with lighter romantic cues and others with tension and so on. Christopher started early on to produce his own Library Music and marketed them through his own Record Label Sonic Images. This has become a big market and many Library Music companies now hire not just unknown composers but well established composers too to release those Production Music CDs. So instead of scoring a specific action scene, you compose 20 action cues without picture that are suitable to be used later in an action scene later.
Green Street Hooligans is a very good film, but the score is used very sparingly. How did this score come about?
The movie was directed by German director Lexi Alexander. Her short movie "Johnny Flynton" with Christopher's score was nominated for an Oscar. Lexi liked the original orchestral score that we had for the Hooligan movie. But as it happens so often in Hollywood, there were creative differences during post production and decisions were made at the end to use more songs instead of score.
I'm sure most of Chris' fans don't know the movie "Johnny Flynton" or never heard his score for that film. So here is a nice link. Lexi has the short film available for streaming on her website:
What kind of score did Franke write for Berkeley?
The movie is based on Bobby Roth' own story during the 70s. Therefore the sound was more guitar driven and even psychedelic at times. We had some great recording sessions with Tom Morello from "Rage Against the Machine" who played the guitars on the score and is actually in the movie (as a drummer)
How did the score from the second What The Bleep film vary from the first?
It was basically an extended version of the first movie with more interview and a new 15 min animated sequence. The musical direction was the same.
Are you and Franke pleased with the Babylon 5 - Lost Tales CD from Varese Sarabande?
I really liked the score of that movie and it might be actually my favorite B5 score.
Did you score Big Money Rustlas together with Jim Manzie, or did you work separately? What kind of score is this?
Yes, I got introduced to Jim through a mutual friend and it turned out that he lived just 5 minutes from my house. His son is the same age like my son so we often arranged recording sessions / play dates. We worked on the movie and our sons played Legos or soccer. The score is in the style of Ennio Morricone's Spagetti Western, with a twist. The movie is from the "Insane Clown Posse", an underground cult rap group from Detroit with a huge fan base. Their concerts are those bizarre event with all those strange extreme characters. That vibe, combined with offbeat humor in the Western genre created a hilarious movie. It has also interesting cameo appearances among Jason Mewes (Kevin Smith' Silent Bob movies) and Brigitte Nielsen. The movie is actually available on Amazon as DVD and streaming.
On Franke's two last projects, Ultrasuede and Reviving Ophelia, you have received a "composed by" credit along with Chris. Do you feel this is a kind of breakthrough in the scoring world for you? How did you work differently on these projects?
It was more of a process over the years than a breakthrough. I scored movies already in Berlin before I met Chris and I always worked on my own projects. Due to the many projects I worked as a producer and engineer for him, I didn't have much time on the side. However there were always some movies with Chris where I also composed some music and got the "additional music" credits like "The Calling", "Murder on the Orient Express" or "Outer Limits".
It is no secret that Tangerine Dream-fans are a bit disappointed with the way Chris Franke's career developed in the 90s and beyond. After great albums like Pacific Coast Highway, The London Concert and Klemania, that kind of classic electronic music was not heard again from Franke. How does Franke himself look upon this, is he aware of his "old" fans? Why did he decide to leave that kind of music behind?
You have to ask him that. But somehow it makes sense if you look at his career. He is always searching for something new to discover or something new to try. Maybe he hasn't found that lately and is just looking and maybe he will surprise his fans one day when the time is right. So it is not the question what you leave behind, more like what you will discover in the future.
Will you continue working with Franke or do you plan on branching out on your own? What is next for you in terms of film music? Is Franke actively seeking new features to score, or is he happy doing reality, documentaries and TV movies at this point in his career? Will there be another ordinary studio album ala Pacific Coast Highway?
I definitely will continue to work with Chris but I will concentrate more on my solo projects. I released my first two solo albums in Dec 2010 "Why Not Electronica" and "Why Not Electronica Again" followed this year by "Why Not Solo Piano", a more quieter classical solo piano album. I released some videos already on my YouTube channel but there will be more in the near future because I started a collaboration with an artist to create individual animation videos for my music. I also continue to work on film and TV projects as a composer and my pet project over the years - writing ballet music for the modern ballet company that my wife is dancing with.
And there is one more thing. When I started to work for Christopher, I was confronted with his arsenal of synthesizers, samplers and music computers and I had to read through a mountain of manuals and instructions. This passion for gadgets and gears combined with my teaching background at the University let to a whole series of self-published manuals (mostly for Logic Pro) that I made available over the years on my website www.DingDingMusic.com On the website you can find also more information about my work and all the links to my social media sites to keep updated about my upcoming projects.
For any of Christopher's info and news, you have to check his website www.christopherfranke.com